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Start of school tips for supporting your grandchildren and children

In the Garden
Catherine Al-Meten

Summer vacation for children in San Francisco has come to an end, and the new school year has begun. At the end of the week I wrote my granddaughter a letter, wishing her well and giving her some grandmotherly advice for the year to come. My words of wisdom included some thoughts on how I start and begin each day with some prayers and meditation, and how just a few minutes a day help me maintain a sense of peace that carries me through even the busiest and most challenging times. I also shared some special thoughts on topics she and I had discussed privately this summer, and I encouraged her to be loving, kind, brave, and strong. This was done with clear instructions from her that the letter not be too long. So short and sweet, I sent my love off on wings to let her know how much she means to me and how I support her.

Whatever advice or wisdom I share with my family, students, or friends, is based, in part, of something that has been a guiding principle for me for many years. When I was a young mother and a student in Developmental Psychology, I remember hearing someone describe how they viewed raising their children: “Each day I will teach you something that will free you to be you.” This simple statement has helped me as I continue to discern what my role, responsibility, and desire is as a mother and a grandmother. What does it mean to teach someone something that frees them to be themselves? At different times, it means different things.

For very young children it might mean teaching them to dress themselves, and then as they get older, to take care of their clothing and begin making choices about their own outfits. At a certain point, we may teach our children by allowing them to be responsible for their own rooms, for their share of family chores, and for making sure they get their homework done. We teach our children to do things that allow them to take care of themselves, to take responsible roles within the family, and for being a good friend and responsible member of the community. We teach our children how to respect others and work for things they value like education, religious and ethical behavior and ideas, social responsibility, and the environment and the Earth and all her creations. We learn to respect one another, and we allow our children to have a voice and to feel that they are being listened to as well. We teach our children a great deal by what we expect of them. For example, I show my children and grandchild that I care about them by listening to them, by respecting their wishes, and by expecting them to do the same with me. Mutual sharing and respect for one another begins early and lasts throughout our lifetime. Enjoy encouraging, supporting, and sharing the path of knowledge with your children and grandchildren.

And one of the best ways to show support to your grandchildren, is by supporting and affirming your children, their parents. My granddaughter starts her school year off at the same time my daughter is in the throes of the new academic year at the university where she works. It's already a time full of balancing balls and trying to be in two or three places at the same time. Now is not the time to demand full reports of each moment in their lives, nor is it time to make surprise appearances. Remember what it was like when you were balancing a busy family and work life, and support your children and grandchildren by honoring and respecting their needs and schedules. I've learned to arrange my visits and 'help' around what my daughter really needs and wants rather than imposing my own on her life. Even though I am more mobile and flexible with my schedule and life, I try to take into account what works best for my children and grandchildren.

Wherever you are, take some time to mark this passage at the start of this year’s adventures. Send a letter or special video to your grandchildren if you are far away. Call by Skype or Facetime for a face-to-face conversation about the first week of school. Take your grandchildren out for some special time in the park or for a walk along the Embarcadero for ice cream or a cup of hot cocoa and a conversation about the start of the new year. Arrange to pick them up from school, and take them out for an special playdate. Put on your listening ears, and let them share their special moments with you, and encourage them with positive, uplifting support. Share the joys of your own childhood and learning experiences for after all, it is our duty as grandparents, to keep the narrative alive, to tell our stories and pass our ideas on from generation to generation. Get in touch with that ‘child’ within you who remembers what it was like to be in awe, amazed, curious, adventurous, or even maybe a bit apprehensive. Share some of your stories and lessons you have learned, and listen to theirs. Make this a great year, one to remember.

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